If the psychic wave hadn't knocked them off of their feet, the ship's protestations bashing them off of each and every wall in succession had completed the job. The Doctor may have even lost consciousness when he'd been clipped in the torso by one of the railings, causing him to flip over onto the footbridge below.

Passed out was such a dirty word. Blacked out sounded much more becoming of a Time Lord. Still—he'd been unconscious for several seconds until one of Jack's people prodded him. It took him a few moments to focus his eyes on the one in the well-tailored suit. Ianto, it was. The one that always thought he was going to snatch Jack away from them again. The one with the twisted up sense of guilt, remorse and devotion, all in one package Jack no doubt couldn't resist.

As soon as he saw only one Ianto instead of three or four, he trudged to his feet, looking for Owen Harper, who was leaning over a lump of something near the doorway leading into the rest of the ship. "She's got a pretty good knock on the head—nice assortments of cuts and bruises," the medic announced, before the Doctor could even ask what the status was.

"I'll look after her," the Doctor announced as he made his way to the lump on the floor. "Find Rose." He began rattling off directions on auto-pilot even as he gave Violet the once-over. Owen left. He might have said something, he might not have—the Doctor really hadn't been listening.

It had worked, the ship's main entrance was unlocked and the psychic overload from the ship had stopped. He knew there'd been a price. There hadn't been time to discuss it, but Violet had to have been aware of the possibilities. However, the immediacy of losing her lover had been far more pressing than the possibility of losing the TARDIS to which she was bonded.

Things were not going to be easy for her. "Violet…"

Wiping the blood from the gash on her forehead, the Doctor sighed. "Vi, I need you to wake up." Rose needed him, but he couldn't leave Violet here by herself—that could be dangerous. Swiping his thumb at the slice on her cheek, he prodded the forming bruise. There just wasn't time.

Looking up at Ianto Jones, the Doctor tried to straighten the young woman's body out just a bit, to keep anything from being injured any further by strain. "Can you stay here with her? I need to keep her in the ship."

The young man nodded. "I may be able--"

The Doctor shook his head. "We need to keep her on the ship. Lets put it this way—if she tries to leave…shoot her. Non-lethal if you can help it, but if you can't… well, then you can't, and I'll understand." Not the most brilliant or coherent sounding plan, especially with all of the protesting the Doctor had done over these years to make his opinion of guns known. But he was a bit pressed for time.

"What--"

But before Ianto Jones could ask whatever it was, the Doctor was jogging down the hall. Violet…needed looking after. At least until her anger died down and she saw reason. But he couldn't do it. There was someone who needed him a little bit more right now.

XYZ

Blinking in surprise, Toshiko began typing into the translation program again, trying to recompile the last statement. This was just… completely incomprehensible. It made no sense. The aliens had stated their intention of showing the seriousness of their cause to the 'Emperor of Earth' by blowing up their scout vessels.

There had to be a glitch with the program, but she couldn't find it. She needed to figure out what they'd really said, what they really meant… and she had to do it quickly. The energy readings coming from the ships that were already in-system.

Pecking furiously, she recompiled, then reran the last message. As her machine worked, she blinked a few times, trying to rewet her eyes, because she couldn't believe what was coming back up again. They were going to show the seriousness of their cause of invading earth by destroying their own ships.

And then…

And then the sensors lit up light Christmas as the ships exploded simultaneously on her view screens.

Huh.

Alien logic. It's not our logic.

Great—the Earth wasn't being invaded. It, however, didn't solve one little problem: Jack had never reported back. She didn't know if he'd even still been alive (Jack's resilience aside) when they'd blown, but being blown to smithereens tended to put a damper on one's ability to resurrect oneself.

They'd lost communication with him forty-five minutes ago, but at least his communicator had still been sending off a signal, meaning it as functional if out of range. Now, of course, there was nothing.

And the kid. She had no idea what the repercussions would be for the kid doing something stupid, but she had a pretty good idea Torchwood was going to be blamed for his behavior. There was just something of the situation that just smacked of that. Toshiko didn't know the Doctor well, but it was something HE would blame the stupid, inadequate humans for, and if he was blaming them for it, she was pretty sure that Rose's daughter would be lining up to hold them responsible for her lover doing something stupid. That's just how things tended to work themselves out around those parts. Toshiko not only saw it as a possibility but a highly likely outcome.

That being said… it was her duty to inform someone.

Good ole duty. Leave it to that to turn her into the instant bad guy.

XYZ

The hand wrapped around her wrist was cutting off the circulation. Violet didn't care. She just continued glaring at the man in the navy suit. Before she could raise her other hand to him, he grabbed that one as well. He was quick for a fellow that looked like he never did anything that could cause him to get the slightest speck of dust upon himself.

Her teeth ground as her jaw locked. She could kill them all, really. Letting him go up there. Why would they let him? He wasn't authorized to do anything with Torchwood in this reality. Why would he try?

Because he thought he could help. Damn him, damn his…his…helpfulness.

Even though she put up a good fight, she was still a tad on the weak side from having her brains scrambled by the TARDIS, then being knocked unconscious by her. On a better day, they'd have been more evenly matched. That was the only reason why he was able to lower both of her hands. At least, that's what she told herself.

He held on to her wrists, still, his icy blue eyes locked upon hers. "He went up there on his own. And if you're worried that he's gotten himself killed, well, we're worried he may have gotten Jack killed."

The man, Ianto, if she remembered correctly, blamed her for the communications silence just as much as she blamed him. Good. Misery loved company.

Finally, instead of fighting him, she let her hands go slack as she drew in a few deep calming breaths. "Yeah, well, Jack's immortal. I'm more worried about him getting GREG killed."

Slowly, Ianto loosened his grip on her wrists. "I still promised I wouldn't let you leave the ship."

Closing her eyes, Violet leaned against the wall, trying to feel him. It had been so easy before she'd been forced to re-erect her barriers. Now, no matter how hard she tried…nothing. So very much nothing. "He's all I have," she whispered.

"Now you know how I feel about Jack."

She almost left it at that. For just a moment or two, she was content to let them wallow in their shared misery together, after Toshiko had relayed the news regarding the blown-up ships.

But then, from somewhere within the bowels of the ship, her mother's agonized cries rang out. Ianto looked toward the hall leading into the rest of the ship, and without even thinking, Violet pushed into his shoulder and flew past him, running for the door.

She didn't know what she'd do out there, but there had to be something. Her mother was in better hands than her own and she didn't think she could bare to look her mother in the eye right now, with how she was feeling.

XYZ

Rom rubbed his forehead with a dirty, sweaty palm as he crawled toward the torch still lulling back and forth on the plated floor. That had been tough and he hoped he never had to do it ever again. It was bad enough the ship had been trying to make his head pop, but then going into Branden's head…

Branden. His brother was moaning a few feet away. Well, it had started as a moan, then had turned into a whimpering, then full-blown sobs. He hoped his brother knew he wouldn't have done that if there had been another way. They'd had to do it like that, with Rom funneling his knowledge of the language and the control panel directly into his brother's brain. He just…hadn't learned how to do it without overloading the nervous system with his own excess impulses.

It made him feel just awful and sick inside. "Bran?" he whispered, shining the light on his brother. Branden was curled in the foetal position at the base of the long metal panel, hugging himself. Rom suddenly understood that sticky, humid sense of self-loathing that sometimes radiated the Doctor when he wasn't shielding his mind properly, and he was upset about something; Rom had something similar churning in his chest.

Flashing the light behind him, toward the other noise in the antechamber, he saw Gwen Cooper (who wasn't such a party pooper—she had helped keep them on track, and had somehow managed to hold onto that lever with the entire ship trying to shake them off like in one of those car chases with the guy hanging on the roof in those movies he wasn't allowed to watch, since they made him hyper, so mum said) flipping her hair out of her face. There were streaks down her cheeks, and he couldn't tell if it was sweat or tears, or worse yet, blood. But other than being shaken (not stirred! Heh. He loved those movies) she seemed ok.

It was then that Rom realised his own hands were a little shaky. Oh well. He'd live. "You ok?" he asked her, even as he started crawling toward his brother. He could feel his mum's overwhelming distress, and even his baby brother's howling discomfort and fear, but it was Branden's mind that pressed against his own like something hard and pointy.

Letting out a few deep breaths, Gwen got to her knees. "Think so. But I'll be seeing stars for days."

Yeah. He'd heard her head bash off one of the walls before the ship stopped shaking. As it was, his own thick hide was going to be pretty bruised; he'd caught his tummy on the edge of the control panel, hard. He loved the TARDIS, and he respected her, and he knew she had been very lonely and stuff lately, but he was so completely mad at her right now, and he wasn't talking to her for at least a week. Maybe even ten days.

She nodded to the huddled mass crying on the floor. "He ok?"

Putting an arm around his brother, he tried to shake the boy out of it gently "Branden. Hey. You know I'm sorry, right?" He hugged his little buddy and best playmate, rocking them both in time with the erupting sobs. When it didn't slow, he looked up at Gwen Cooper. "Can you see about mum? She's…its…" not good.

But somehow, for some reason, he couldn't say it. Because his mother's mortality frightened him. Her last encounter with the Time Vortex had slowed her aging, but it hadn't made her impervious like Uncle Jack. Rom would have even been happy with some extra fast healing, like Time Lords had, or maybe a freebie regeneration or two. It made him worry about his mum in a way that was tough for him to think about.

Nodding, Gwen left him to his brother. She was a smart lady. She knew when to just let them go and when to help. He'd just mentally beaten his four year old brother with a stick, there weren't many words of comfort that the lady could offer. "Bran," he whispered again, tears catching in his eyelashes. "I'm sorry, Branden." But he was eight, and that was old enough to know that saying you were sorry couldn't always fix everything, even if it was a good start.

XYZ

Jack's fist connected with the young man's jaw. Again. There was something good and righteous about a royal shit-kicking now and again. Mostly he was annoyed that the kid's sweet talking had worked. "THAT is for getting them to blow themselves up, and not even telling me the plan."

Stumbling backward, Greg's back hit the brick wall on the other side of the narrow alley they'd transmatted to just as the ship was torn apart by a matter destabilization chain reaction. He wiped his lip where he'd bit the inside of it, looking at the blood on the back of his hand. "Yeah, well, you never gave me the chance!"

Before he could tell the stupid kid exactly what he thought of that shitty (if effective) plan, he stopped in his tracks. Violet was standing at the end of the alley, looking as if she'd seen a ghost. "Oh look," Jack started sarcastically, even though he wasn't feeling it any more. "Your girlfriend's here to save you."

The look of pained distain that the young woman shot him was enough to let him know that there was far more going on than he knew about, and he'd better just take a step back. He knew it couldn't be good when she walked toward Greg at an uneven pace, like she wanted desperately to run to him, but for some reason didn't dare. "You scared me," she breathed, wrapping her arms around his neck.

The young man squeezed her back, kissing her cheek. For some reason it made Jack feel like an intruder, just that one tiny gesture. "No worries. I had a plan."

Closing her eyes, she pulled away from him just a bit. "We lost our TARDIS. FRED's gone."

He frowned. "What does that mean?"

She sniffed. "He's out in the Vortex somewhere. Don't know how to find him." Putting her head on his shoulder, she began undignified and rutted sobs.

Now, Jack had no idea what had happened while he was gone, but she wasn't crying over the loss of the ship. That was a difficult thing, but even he could think up a few ways to keep the situation fro being permanent. She was crying like she'd lost something or someone else.

That was the thing that made Jack quietly creep out of the alley, watching Greg comfort the grieving woman. He needed to get back to Torchwood.

Next…Epilogue

Epilogue…

It had been three days before Violet could bring herself to go back to the hub. The worst part was, she didn't have her sonic screwdriver (which she still maintained as her own, by virtue of the statute of limitations on theft having run out), so she couldn't activate the 'invisible' lift from the outside. She had to go through the gift shop maintained by Ianto Jones. It was bad enough she had to apologise (it was the right thing to do after her rude behavior) but she had to request admittance to the Hub.

It was quiet in there. Gwen Cooper was entertaining the two boys by teaching them a card game in the conference room. Rom was shifting back and forth, licking his lip in concentration. Branden seemed sullen in his stillness. She got a vibe off of him that he really just wanted everyone to keep their distance for now.

Other than waving to them, she didn't make any other gestures to interfere with their gaming. They looked like two little kids in need of some childish distraction. She knew what it was like to have a childhood interrupted by very grown-up things.

Toshiko was at her workstation tearing apart a coiled device that looked like a temporal lock disruptor. No wonder the TARDIS had tried to shake them loose, if they'd been using that on her. She offered a tight smile to Violet and Greg as they walked hand-in-hand across a narrow footbridge.

Jack was nowhere to be seen. Owen Harper was also at his workstation and regarded her with about the same amount of warmth as a glacier. She supposed that she deserved that, too. She hadn't exactly played nice with Captain Jack's friends, had she?

When she made her way into the lowest basement, where the TARDIS had landed, she was surprised to see the door slightly ajar. Having the door unlocked was something that could get you a good scolding from the Doctor, much less having it cracked open. Cardinal Time Lord sin, the way you heard him tell of it.

But when Greg closed the door behind them, it didn't latch shut. They'd definitely used the device on the lock. Not only had it destroyed the lock and compromised the security of the ship, but it looked like it had disrupted some other systems. The console was glowing more of a pale sickly yellow than its usual vibrant green and a lot of the lights seemed to be out as they walked through the ship.

"Looks like they have their own problems to worry about," Greg whispered as he squeezed her hand.

He was doing it again. Taking care of her, making sure she did the right thing in apologising for her behavior and making things right with everyone, and trying to comfort her while doing so. She wished he wasn't so damned… good.

Sure, he was infuriating. He did things sometimes (like running off to play hero and nearly getting himself and Jack killed) when she didn't know how she could possibly be in the same room with him any longer. But he also… was just so good. The other, better half of her. She'd tried to show him that over the last few days, but it seemed like physical intimacy was shallow compared to how close she wanted to be to him. There'd never been a time when she'd actually wanted his children, until now. If it was the only way to have a part of him with her…

"What?"

It was then that she noticed her eyes were watering. "Nothing. Just… not looking forward to this."

He poked her in the back as they made their way toward the scraping at the other end of the level, near some of the better ship's quarts. "I don't know what happened between you two, but you have to at least say you're sorry. Whether you mean it or not." When she opened her mouth to protest, he poked her again. "Just do it."

There was a light coming from an unfamiliar room. As she approached, she wondered how he dared act so wise, when he was just as much of a screw-up and a mess as she was, just in a totally different way. Before she could make a snide remark to that effect, she peared through the doorway and stopped dead in her tracks.

Her mum was sleeping in an oversized bed. The blankets pulled up to her chin were a sandy tan knit, and her pale face disappeared into the equally dull pillowcase under her head. There were dark circles under her eyes, and her lips were chapped and white.

She'd wanted to just slap the Doctor earlier, whenever she thought of how her mother had not aged since she'd seen her last, but he'd been telling her to let Greg go. Her mother wasn't as immortal as she'd feared. Somehow that didn't fill her with any sort of joy, the way she thought it might.

Next to the bed was a small wicker cot. Very dated, but somehow fitting in the room done in earth tones and wood. Practically tiptoeing toward it, she looked inside. Arten Lodi Prime Tyler lay inside, swaddled and sleeping, his itty bitty old-man face scrunched in concentration, as if unconsciousness was a feat achieved only by a certain few. "I am SO sorry for what mum named you," she whispered, brushing her finger against the little boy's cheek. "If it makes you feel better, I'll call you Buckwheat Bogbean Tyler when no one else is around. Plants are way better than planets."

Greg nudged Violet, and she looked over at her mother, who was watching them with an exhausted smile on her face. "Barcelona Minor Tyler," she teased.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, she took her mother's hand. It was cold and Violet didn't like the feel of it. Not at all the soft warm touch she remembered from her own childhood. "You ok?"

Nuzzling her cheek against the pillow, her mum closed her eyes. "Yeah. I'll live. He's ok too. More ok than me, even."

"Take care of yourself," Violet whispered, brushing a hair away from her mother's forehead. She didn't like being in this reversed role. "You're the only mum I've got."

Her mother squeezed her hand back. "Not getting rid of me so easily. Just…had a tough time with that one."

That was a bit of an understatement.

"Let your mother sleep."

Rolling her eyes, Violet tried to swallow back the larger part of her distain for the Doctor. "I just wanted to make sure she was ok."

Greg had been fussing quietly over the cradle. He stood up straight then, like he always did when the Doctor was around. He always acted like the Doctor was some…respectable figure or something, doing everything just shy of saluting. It had been cute when she was a teenager. Now… well, she just wondered if Greg had ever gotten over his hero-worship of the Doctor.

He wasn't always right, Greg should know. Nor did the sun rise and set beneath his feet. Two tough lessons she'd learned within the last few days.

Kissing her mother's cheek, she got up from the bed as gently as possible. "He's a cute kid. Unfortunate name, though." Her mother hadn't done anything yet to shake the faith Violet had placed in the woman—Rose Tyler was still a legend. The bravest, the best, the cleverest, the most caring person Violet had ever known…and her mum. Was it even right to have such a perfect relationship with her mother? Well, except for that one thing. Rose Tyler enjoyed tormenting her offspring. Well, she supposed everybody needed something. "Make sure Branden doesn't try to play with him like a Cabbage Patch Doll. He kinda looks like one."

The Doctor didn't say anything else, he simply stood in the doorway, making things so very uncomfortable.

She could also feel Greg's eyes upon her, urging her on. Taking one last peek in the cot, she bit her lower lip. "Sorry for being rude," she mumbled, trying to speed over the words she really didn't mean.

"What I told you before still stands. Don't make me do it."

Somehow, when the Doctor said that, he managed to not look at Greg. Violet hadn't managed to maintain the same level of composure. She stole a quick glance, but she looked away again before their eyes could lock. "Yeah. About that… well, my options are a little limited. Since I don't have a ship or anything any more." She'd lost her home, somewhere in all of this, and she was about to lose the person who made it home.

The Doctor wiped his hands on his trousers, then looked at the grease stains on his fingers. It was all some effort to look care-free, but she knew how stiff and strained this coversation was for him too. "It's out in the Vortex somewhere. We'll find it eventually. If not… well, I just came up from the new storage level that's suddenly appeared. There're six tiny TARDISes down there that are about to make their first room. In a couple hundred years you can fly a whole new type. What would a cross between a forty and a one-oh-nine be? Mean, average or sum, do you think?"

And that pathetic attempt at humour fell entirely flat. The Doctor continued to examine his fingers, Violet wondered at boot, and if it was a trick of the lighting, or if there was a hole in the leather along the edge of the zip. Greg ran his thumb repeatedly against a piece of the wicker, and her mum was blissfully unconscious to the whole awkward thing.

"I know she's probably not flight-worthy right now, but when she is, I was wondering if we could get a lift to another time zone."

One eyebrow arched as the Doctor inspected her, seeming to be judging her motives. "Anywhere in particular?"

Violet looked to Greg, who rose a hand in an awkward wave. She sighed, wondering just how clunky and painful this conversation could get. "We want to settle up with Greg's family. Maybe stay with them for a little bit. Being Earth-bound again can't be that bad, granted I stay away from any and all incarnations of Torchwood."

The Doctor nodded. "Shouldn't be too long until I have her functional. Your old room's now filled with dinosaurs and trains, but Greg's room is still there, if you want it till then. I'm sure your mother would like to have you around."

Oh wasn't it just so like him, to try and use her mother as leverage. "You said she needs her sleep. I'll give you the address of the place where we've been staying if you need anything. Otherwise we'll swing around to see her and the boys when she's up for it." Mum and her brothers…not him. "I guess we'll be going."

Walking past the Doctor, she marched down the corridor on a mission—to get as far away from him as possible. She didn't check to see if Greg was with her, she was that animate about it. Maybe when her mum was feeling better, they could talk about it.

No—she knew what her mother would say. Her mother would take the Doctor's side. Because letting Time run its course was the 'right' thing to do.

But dammit! She spent just about every spare moment fixing errant time strands and repairing time lines. She'd lost a childhood with her mother, the one person who'd understood her when she was young, in order to prepare for this vocation that had been thrust upon her. She'd lost her home and belonged nowhere because of this calling she'd foolishly answered. The universe owed her.

It owed her just one. And if she could figure out the point where the time lines intersected and then diverged, she could stop it. If she was clever, she could do it without the reapers seeing. Without the Doctor seeing.

And if they ended up at odds?

Well… she was tired of caring. It was too tedious to worry about his opinon of her, in a world where she had the power to fix things. She fixed them for others…why not herself?

Just this once, the universe owed her. Just this once, Violet was going to collect.

THE END.